Word Relationships

Contributor: Suzanne Riordan. Lesson ID: 13947

Gas is to car as food is to __ ? Can you solve this word puzzle? Finding relationships between words will improve both your reading and your writing. Learn all about synonyms, antonyms, and analogies!


Comprehension, Writing

English / Language Arts
learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Lion, Otter
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Skill Sharpener

Lesson Plan - Get It!

Audio: Image - Button Play
Image - Lession Started Image - Button Start

books and people

The images above reflect something French philosopher Voltaire once said.

Voltaire quote

Voltaire was comparing men and books, noting their similarities.

This kind of comparison is called an analogy. It's just one of many ways to express relationships between words.

Explore some of them!


Synonyms are words that mean the same or almost the same thing, like cat and feline.

Using synonyms is a great way to improve your writing. For example, you could write the following.

My cat is the weirdest cat around. She's the only cat I know who scratches on the door to come in, then turns around and runs right back out again!

cat at the door

Readers will get bored if you keep repeating the same word repeatedly. Here, the word cat is used three times! If you look up some synonyms for cat, you'll find these words.

  • feline
  • tabby
  • kitty
  • pussycat
  • mouser
  • tomcat
  • house cat

So let's change the sentences to this.

My cat is the weirdest feline around. She's the only kitty I know who scratches on the door to come in, then turns around and runs right back out again!

Synonyms also help when you're reading. Say you read the above sentence and hadn't seen the word feline before.

  • Could you tell from that sentence that feline means the same as cat?

Try that method of figuring out a word with another sentence.

Senator Gluffwaff conceded the election because, after learning that he lost 54% of the vote, he had to acknowledge that Mrs. Looney was the winner.

man on the phone

Here, the sentence tells you that Gluffwaff conceded. It also tells you he acknowledged his opponent as the winner. From this, you can tell concede is to give in, stop fighting, and acknowledge that someone else won.


Just as synonyms help us to vary our writing and figure out unknown words, so do antonyms. Antonyms are words that mean the opposite, like these.

  • nervous and calm
  • generous and stingy
  • proud and humble
  • enormous and tiny

Consider this sentence.

Jessica thought Gordon was the hero of the evening, but Medford considered him the worst skulker he ever met.

people at a party

From this sentence, you can tell that Medford thought differently from Jessica. He did not consider Gordon a hero but a skulker. You may never have seen the word skulker before, but here you can guess that it must mean the opposite of hero!


Many times, you will read a sentence with an unfamiliar word, and there is no synonym or antonym to help you figure it out.

  • What can you do?

Then, it's time to use context clues. Context clues are hints found in the sentence or near it, which help reveal the meaning of the unknown word.

Mr. Samuel explained a hypothetical situation from the textbook. Greg thought he was referring to a news story, so he tried to look it up on the internet but couldn't find it.


Use context clues to figure out what hypothetical means.

  • Greg could not find the hypothetical situation in a news story, so maybe it's not real?
  • Maybe the teacher used a made-up example to explain something to the class.

Yes, hypothetical refers to something that is based on a suggested idea or assumption, rather than being proven or existing in reality. It's often used to explore possibilities, scenarios, or situations that may or may not be true.

Always look at the sentences before or after to find context clues to determine the meaning of an unknown word.

Also, when writing, add context clues for your readers if you use a word they might not know.


Another way that writers show word relationships is to use analogies.

Analogies make you apply what you know about one thing to something else. It may be about the items' characteristics, locations, jobs, or purposes. The items may be similar or different.

For example, look at a lemon.


Analogies can be used to show relationships between:

Image - Video

Once you have a word relationship, you write another similar relationship.

Image - Video

To save time, write analogies this way.

Image - Video

  • So far, so good, right?

Now, the hard part comes when one of the parts of the analogy is left blank, and you have to figure it out!

Try this one.

fish: ocean:: camel:________

fish and camel

  • Did you say desert?

Good job!

What makes analogies even harder is that you may have to find both parts of the second relationship. You may even be given several choices, some of which seem to be the answer!

For example:

lightning: thunder:: ________

  • a. music: radio
  • b. energy: electricity
  • c. baby: crying
  • d. weather :storm

The best way to do this is to make a sentence showing the relationship.

The sound of lightning is called thunder.

Then, see which possible answers fit the same pattern.

The sound of ________ is called ________.

  • a. music: radio (The sound of music is called radio? No!)
  • b. energy: electricity (The sound of energy is called electricity? No!)
  • c. baby: crying (The sound of a baby is called crying? Yes!)
  • d. weather: storm (The sound of weather is called storm? No!)

Wow, that was a lot to learn!

  • Are you ready to test your knowledge?

Go to the Got It? section now!

Image - Button Next